The contribution of subsistence to global human cranial variation.
Diet-related cranial variation in modern humans is well documented on a regional scale, with ample examples of cranial changes related to the agricultural transition. However, the influence of subsistence strategy on global cranial variation is less clear, having been confirmed only for the mandible, and dietary effects beyond agriculture are often neglected. Here we identify global patterns of subsistence-related human cranial shape variation. We analysed a worldwide sample of 15 populations (n = 255) with known subsistence strategies using 3-D landmark datasets designed to capture the shape of different units of the cranium. Results show significant correlations between global cranial shape and diet, especially for temporalis muscle shape and general cranial shape. Importantly, the differences between populations with either a plant- or an animal-based diet are more pronounced than those between agriculturalists and hunter-gatherers, suggesting that the influence of diet as driver of cranial variation is not limited to Holocene transitions to agricultural subsistence. Dental arch shape did not correlate with subsistence pattern, possibly indicating the high plasticity of this region of the face in relation to age, disease and individual use of the dentition. Our results highlight the importance of subsistence strategy as one of the factors underlying the evolution of human geographic cranial variation.